Thursday, June 12, 2008

Defending your thesis

Jim Sallee, soon to be employed at the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, defended his thesis on Wednesday. I am on his committee and so got to give one last read to two of his three essays; I passed on the third as I have read it before and it is, in fact, already published. Jim's job market paper looks at the incidence of tax subsidies for the Toyota Prius. It, and the other two papers in the thesis, are quite nice indeed.

In the advice column, a reader of Jim's thesis would find the paper on the Prius tax subsidy incidence, a paper on age at marriage laws which is sort of a measurement paper and sort of a substance paper and an applied theory paper on the optimal design of university systems. While all three papers are excellent, we advised Jim to pursue a somewhat more focused agenda between now and tenure time. Knowing how much to focus is tough. You do not want to be the world's expert on some very minor subject but you also do not want to be seen as an unfocused wanderer through the academic desert. As usual, moderation in all things applies here as a specific case.

More generally, I was again impressed with the productivity of the Michigan graduate students.

Harris School tidbits: Irving made his money on Toni home hair styling products and First Alert fire alarms. Oddly, these fine products are not available for purchase at the school. Back in my graduate student days, Irving would periodically drop by and, sometimes, ask to have the school do some research for him. I got called in for one of those projects, which involved looking for people with "multiple barriers" in the NLSY-79.